Olly Murs – Man Alone!

In a recent interview for The Sunday Times, the pop singer Olly Murs is quoted as saying, “one thing I do struggle with is not getting enough alone-time”.

Unfortunately he doesn’t elaborate on this, so we don’t get even a hint of why he needs this. It’s intriguing because, as readers of the What Men Do Guide are aware, we’re big supporters of time alone.

One of the curses of living in this Age of Technology is that it provides so many adult toys to add to the

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number of distractions.

The result is that, even when you’ve managed to provide yourself with a couple of hours to ‘think things through’, some gadget springs to life to disturb the solitude.

And this condition is much misunderstood because, from our experience, most guys these days would consider the idea of ‘solitude’ to be a description of something negative, something to avoid if at all possible.

That ‘time alone’ solitude is much favoured by the Guide is because we believe it’s increasingly necessary in order to have the hours to learn to know oneself.

Regularly one hears constant reference to the importance of ‘communication’; indeed, ‘good communication skills’ are now highly valued as a big help towards obtaining employment. This suggests that adolescents spend so much time in the

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grip of technology that their ‘communication skills’ are greater with some form of technology than with their fellow human beings.

What adds to the interest of his observation is that Olly Murs is now aged 29.

In the Guide there are several references to the idea of Life being broken up into (roughly) 7-year periods with particular reference to the fifth period which begins around age 28. at 21 it’s possible to convince yourself you’re still a teenager but by age 28, well, who’s kidding who?

With the dreaded age 30 looming, all the elements which make you a human being – physically, mentally and sensorially come together (we reckon, lurking in the solar plexus area), clearly indicating that it’s time to perform from a new script.

By that time enough life experience has been lived – or wasted – to indicate that a new perspective is fast becoming a necessity: the question is, based on the time already gone, how well do you know yourself? How close is the ‘appearance’ you’ve been presenting to

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the world via your outer shell to the invisible reality nestled in your heart?

Does the word ‘Friend’ have any meaning for you or is your ‘little black book’ only filled with those you’ve listed to feed your short term ambitions, and the needs of your ego?

Yes; it would have been fascinating to learn the why’s and wherefores of Mr. Murs’ need for alone-time.

‘Poor Me!’ – A Curse Of The Wimp

There’s nothing more un-masculine than self-pity.

It’s a dead giveaway that a guy has lost his way,

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or at least on the brink of it, and needs reminding that to grow means to struggle. I’m writing about this because not only am I witnessing it around me more and more but it’s a creeping paralysis that’s affecting me personally more and more.

I’m over-worked, and because I put so much of my energy in the job (which I enjoy) I find that I get over-tired, then become irritable and, on a really bad day, something approaching peevish which – I’m not sure I dare to admit this – makes me feel like a female.

(Now there’s a bit of prejudice being exposed, inspired by this ‘Poor Me!’ syndrome; it slowly drains away my self respect to the point that I begin to deny to myself who and what I am.)

I become impervious to criticism even though

I’m perfectly aware it’s well meant; fear grips my nuts (I write metaphorically) as I suspect it’s as plain as a pikestaff I’m settling-for-less whereupon a subsequent (pathetic) ‘Poor Me!’ is waiting in the wings.

As a major part of my work is creative it’s relatively easy to get away with something that lacks excellence. Only the artist knows when there’s enough paint on the canvas (so to speak), so it’s easy to settle for mediocrity, seven-out-of-ten, and put the brushes away, but where’s the buzz in that, eh?

I particularly despise guys who are part of what the What Men Do Guide calls the ‘Settle for Less’ Brigade, those who only work on a level that is adequate for the task in hand rather than that at which they feel proud of their work.

There’s also a bit in the Guide that stresses the signs of decay we see everywhere – the dud light bulbs at the bus station; the unsold garments littering the floor of the department store; the inferior sandwich we hurriedly grab at lunchtime and for which we haven’t the time (or the

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energy) to go back and complain.

Conversely, it’s great when you see a guy who’s on top of his job, obviously married to quality and excellence, relishing providing his customers with the best that he can. It happens so rarely these days that, when I witness it, I find it a real turn-on.

It makes me envious, and I feel guilty, not that I’m ripping off my employer, but ripping off myself.

Ok, I realise this probably reads like a personal gripe, but it’s more than that as I have a sense that it’s spreading. A lack of self-respect is the bottom line of what’s at stake, and that’s not good.

Whatever Happened To The Heroes?

I realise that the subject of Heroes was discussed in our last blog, but Life – as it seems to have a habit of doing when an idea is in the ether – has thrown up a set of circumstances that has led me to want to cover similar ground to that which one of my co-writers wandered on last week.

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Last Monday saw the funeral of the Irish poet, Seamus Heaney. A certain News channel – I say “certain” not to avoid naming names but simply because I don’t know which one it was – showed live footage of his funeral. So far, so honourable.

I know this because one of my Friends happened to be standing in line at the bank – Barclays if it makes any difference (see, I do have the Balls to name names) – at the time it was on.

However, this live – I say that again, live – footage of the funeral of “the greatest Irish poet since Yeats” (not my words) was interrupted on this particular News channel to show live footage of another ‘breaking news’ story. Cut to Gareth Bale playing kick-ups on the pitch at the Bernabéu. (That’s Real Madrid’s home stadium for those who don’t follow sportsball.)

Now I’m not here to discuss the current financial culture of the world of professional football – that has been talked about more than enough over the past couple of weeks. (Although, in passing, it might be interesting to learn that the small Youth Charity for which I work could run for around three and a half years on the same amount of money that Gareth Bale earns in a single week.)

Nor am I aiming criticism at the News channel who decided that footage of Gareth Bale playing kick-ups was more important than Seamus Heaney’s funeral. To be fair on them, I suspect that the majority of the all important 18-35 year old demographic – of which I am a card carrying member before you accuse me of being an old fart – know (and care?) far more about Gareth Bale than they do about Seamus Heaney.

But it does raise the question of ‘where are the modern heroes?’. If we look at the tale I have just told then it would suggest that, to those who control our daily dose of News at least, a twenty-four year old who kicks an inflated pig’s bladder into a net is far more deserving of our idolisation than a recently deceased former Nobel Prize for Literature winner.

I realise this sounds like an anti-football rant, and I’ll be honest and admit that it probably is. I accept the fact that football and poetry achieve similar outcomes in that they are both escapist exercises which provide entertainment and joy to many people. I’m not even trying to claim that Seamus Heaney is a hero – he certainly isn’t one of my select few of personal heroes (a list which I won’t publish here as they are just that, personal).

But I find it easier to accept that Seamus Heaney could be a hero to many as much of his poetry provided escapism during a horrible period of time for many people – the Irish ‘Troubles’. His fellow Irish writer Colm Tóibín eulogised that “In a time of burnings and bombings Heaney used poetry to offer an alternative world”. Does playing football for £15.6m a year really deserve to trump that?

Not only that, but Seamus Heaney had just died whereas Gareth Bale had merely moved jobs.

As I say, I’m not trying to label either of these men as heroes; I just thought the priorities of the media seemed skewed in this instance. But this train of thought added fuel to the flame in my mind that can’t help but think we are lacking in any recognisable heroes for the modern age.

And, more importantly, what does it mean to be a hero in 2013?




The Curse Of The Familiar

One of the unexpected elements we came upon whilst compiling the ‘What Men Do’ Guide was the difficulty of writing the section we’ve called ‘The Tribe of Heroes’.

This covers the area in which we try to make clear that there are ‘Heroes’ – in the sense of guys who refuse to be other than themselves – all over the world (not only in Yorkshire).

When you consider this subject alongside others we’ve covered you wouldn’t think it would be an area that was all that difficult. With some of the others we had what you might term, ‘a little local difficulty’.

With ‘Sex’ – which we headed simply ‘Sex’ in order to make the point that we didn’t think it was a subject that should treated other than seriously – the first hassle (as I recall it) was which of the three of us was to write it. With my vast experience of the subject, I was clearly the front runner of choice (although my co-writers seemed to find this claim hilarious). However, who ‘won’ the job must remain an unknown to comply with our basic ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement’.

The section on being gay, which we headed ‘Different Folks, Different Strokes’ was quite tricky, as was that on mothers which we headed ‘Your Greatest Debt’ as (surprise, surprise) not one of us is a mother himself.

The basic difficulty writing ‘The Tribe of Heroes’ was that it presents a situation which requires of the reader a considerable dollop of Trust. As a guy in his late teens/early twenties, his lack if life experience represents a practical limitation on the range of guys he is likely to have met up with this far.

What becomes exposed by the lack of variety in their worldly perspective is that the prejudices familiar from their growth from childhood naturally expose themselves. All the bullshit absorbed from those who ‘have your best interests at heart’ rush to the surface as a kind of psychological defence force, aimed at protecting you from the big bad world.

‘Bad’ much

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of it is, but not all of it. But how to explain that there are guys out there – everywhere – who, like yourself, are only too anxious to support and enrich your life as well as their own.

And whilst the spread of technology has increased our basic knowledge of the wider world, for most guys this is only the surface facts of the Thinking Man. It cuts much less ice in the worlds of Feeling and Sensing. The rawness with which these exist below our human exterior rather suggest to us that most guys are still marooned within what is familiar to them and find it difficult to shrug off their fear of the unknown.

A guy doesn’t need persuading that there are ‘Heroes’ elsewhere when his excursion into the desert turns life threatening by a sudden sandstorm, whereupon a dark skinned bearded Bedouin looms out of the grainy gloom and offers him a skinful of water and the joint shelter of his camel.

Why doesn’t he inspire fear?

Or fit the image of the movies or the news?

Can there really be ‘Heroes’ outside of Yorkshire?